- Journalism in the Late Victorian Scottish Highlands:John Murdoch, Duncan Campbell, and the Northern Chronicle1
At first glance the Northern Chronicle, edited by Duncan Campbell from its commencement in January 1881, and the Highlander, edited by John Murdoch from its establishment in May 1873 until its demise as a weekly newspaper in late 1881 (it continued as a monthly review for a short period), have little in common.2 The Highlander was a vehicle for Murdoch's unorthodox views on politics and religion; the Chronicle was a Conservative title. It was funded by landowners and lawyers and its principal promoter was Charles Innes, an Inverness lawyer and Conservative party agent. Liberal hegemony in the field of newspaper publication in the North was virtually complete, however; the principal newspapers in Inverness, the long-running Courier and the Advertiser, represented various shades of liberalism. Further afield the prestigious Aberdeen Free Press, was also Liberal in its politics. This structure was topped by the Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald, which remained Liberal until the Irish Home Rule crisis of 1886.
Despite these contrasts there are connections between the newspapers, and they will form the first theme of this article. The second theme will be the attempts of Conservatives in Aberdeen and Inverness to establish a newspaper to counteract the dominance of the Liberal press. This resulted in the re-alignment of the Aberdeen Journal in 1876 and the establishment of the Northern Chronicle in 1881, as the Conservative party belatedly began to pay attention to the press as a political vehicle. These efforts, however, had resulted in an unsuccessful attempt by Highland Conservatives to purchase unsold shares in the financially struggling Highlander and turn it into a Conservative paper. Finally, both editors, John Murdoch of the Highlander and Duncan Campbell of the Northern Chronicle, have left full memoirs.3 [End Page 281]
John Murdoch and the Highlander
The Highlander began publication in May 1873 and came out weekly, mostly priced at 1d, until 1881, continuing thereafter as a monthly publication until its demise in 1882. This short run was punctuated by a series of financial crises mitigated by the support of wealthy supporters, such as John Mackay of Hereford; the heroic pursuit of subscriptions, revenue and unpaid debts by Murdoch; and, very controversially, subsidy from Irish-American sources.4 The Highlander's struggles owed much to low circulation, but its initial capital was insufficient.5 Although the Inverness Advertiser and the Northern Ensign, published in Wick, had exhibited flickers of political assertiveness in the 1840s and 1850s, the Highlander took this to new levels. The late Victorian period has been characterised as one of transition from an "educative" press to a "representative" press.6 If one accepts this schema then the Highlander was firmly in the former category; indeed, at times it was positively didactic. Murdoch's aim was to awaken the people of the Highlands to political awareness and to give them the confidence to challenge landlords and other forces over grievances relating to land, language and social position.7
The views of John Murdoch are central to understanding the content of the Highlander. He spent a formative childhood period on the island of Islay alongside the landowner's son and future folklorist John Francis Campbell, before a career in the excise service in all corners of the British Isles. His retirement money went to the founding of the Highlander. The newspaper advocated land reform, the place of Gaelic in the educational curriculum, the need for independent popular political action after the passage of the Ballot Act in 1872, Scottish Home Rule and, in its later stages especially, a more positive attitude to Ireland. The Highlander supported Charles Fraser Mackintosh, the Independent Liberal MP for the Inverness District of Burghs, as he took up the causes of Gaelic and land reform in parliament. There was a considerable amount of Gaelic material in the Highlander, especially in the early stages of its career. It is interesting to note, however, that the Chronicle was also sensitive to its surroundings and the cultural context in which it was published:
Hitherto, Highlanders in especial have not infrequently been obliged from want...